Dual Military Couples: Navigating Military Life Together

  • Published
  • By Courtesy writer, Northern Sentry
  • Minot Air Force Base Public Affairs
According to the 2018 Demographics Report published by the Department of Defense, 10.9% of active duty Air Force members (enlisted and officer) are in dual-military marriages, meaning an active duty Airman is married to another active duty or reserve Airman. In some ways, dual-military life can be compared to a normal working couple’s relationship, but it comes with its own unique set of opportunities and challenges.
Col. Kristen Nemish, Commander of the 91st Operations Group, and her husband, Retired Lt. Col. Mark Nemish, are an example of a couple with many years of experience as a dual-military family. After meeting at Malmstrom AFB, Mont., in 1999, the Nemishes navigated moves, career changes, and a growing family. In 2005, they were stationed together at Vandenberg AFB, Calif., and were able to get joint-spouse assignments until Mr. Nemish’s retirement from the Air Force. After his retirement, Mr. Nemish took on a new career as a stay at home father, Key Spouse, and Minot AFB School Board member.
Individuals often have different career goals, and when in a dual-military relationship, it is important to sit down and have conversations about the future. There is one piece of advice in particular that has helped many dual-military couples.
“You need to have an open and honest relationship with leadership,” said Col. Nemish, echoing the words of many other dual-military couples.
For Captains Dylan and Sara Fotheringham of the 91st Operations Group and 91 Missile Wing, talking to leadership actually ensured that they were able to stay together. “He told his leadership that he was going to propose, and his boss ensured I would fly on the B-52 so that I could be stationed at Minot with Dylan,” said Capt. Sara Fotheringham.
The Fotheringhams met in Pensacola, Fla., while volunteering at a Blue Angels show. They now have one son and three dogs, and are working through the ups and downs of dual-military life every day.
Some couples may opt to focus on their careers and follow every opportunity they are given. Others make the decision early on to focus on their family, and may turn down career opportunities in order to stay close. However, due to the nature of military life, the option to turn down opportunities is not always available, which is why communication and flexibility are so important in mil-to-mil relationships.
“It takes a lot of planning and foresight,” said Capt. Sara Fotheringham. “You have to be proactive.”
Capt. Matthew Rosa and Capt. Alyssa Ford of the 742nd Missile Squadron take plenty of time to plan out their future as much as possible. “Everyone’s timeline is different, and we had to meet in the middle for our goals,” they said. “The Air Force is constantly changing, so you have to consistently talk about what you want for your career.”
Ford spent much of her early career at Minot in an office, but is now working as a Weapons Officer in charge of training. Since they met, Rosa has been moved to the 742nd Missile Squadron where he now works alongside his wife as a Squadron Evaluator. Because of their careers, they often spend weeks apart, but do have the opportunity to collaborate in some aspects of their jobs.
Even when stationed together, dual-military couples sometimes face obstacles when it comes to performing work duties and being a parent. Being in the military can leave individuals on alert 24/7, so dual-military couples often rely on a strong support system of friends and neighbors to help with the challenges of family life.
Parents are required to have a Family Care Plan in the event of last minute changes, and many dual-military families use each other as step-in caregivers in the event of a call in. Even for Capt. Rosa and Capt. Ford, who only have a dog and two cats, there is a community of people who work together to take care of each other’s pets while they are away from home.
Alongside relying on their peers, dual-military couples often lean on each other for support, especially when it comes to work. “I think our relationship would have actually been more challenging if one of us wasn’t in the military,” said Rosa. “I found someone with ambition and drive, someone who gets to thrive with me.”
Many dual-military couples feel that it is easier to let off steam about work when their significant other fully understands what they’re going through. However, a clear line between work and personal life is important when maintaining a military relationship. “We have to make sure to we’re present with each other when we’re home,” said Ford.
For the Fotheringhams, that meant thinking outside of the box to find ways of spending quality time together, even during a deployment. Technology has made being apart easier for families, and while deployed, the Fotheringhams took full advantage of it by video calling and watching movies together with Bluetooth headphones. 
Deployment, change of post, and normal job requirements often leave military couples apart for long periods of time. This can be one of the biggest challenges of mil-to-mil life, but a positive attitude and prioritizing family time when possible is one way that many couples cope with the distance.
A mere two days after getting married, Capt. Sara Fotheringham was deployed to Qatar. “I like to think that Qatar was my honeymoon,” she said. Two years later, she deployed again to England for a Bomber Task Force. Meanwhile, Capt. Dylan Fotheringham was able to stay and live his “dad life to the max,” taking care of their son while his wife was away.
While deployment and career changes may be inevitable for many dual-military couples, maintaining healthy, happy relationships is still possible. The Air Force allows couples to apply for joint-spouse assignments, where a spouse will be given orders to the same base as, or a base near, their significant other, depending on the availability of jobs. It is not always possible, especially for couples in different branches of the military, but the Air Force has made strides to improve their policies to keep families together.
“At the end of the day, the Air Force sees us as individual Airmen. However, we’re proud of how far we’ve come to have more policies to support dual-military couples and those with children,” said Col. Nemish. “Over the years, keeping dual-military families together, when possible, has become more of a forethought instead of an afterthought.”